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Manitoba classrooms closed indefinitely

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The provincial government has officially suspended classes at all Manitoba schools for Kindergarten to Grade 12 for an indefinite period beyond the original Apr. 10 closure of schools.
In making the announcement last week, Premier Brian Pallister and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the chief provincial public health officer advised the move was necessary to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 throughout the province, announced today.
“We must do everything we can to flatten the COVID curve and protect the health and well-being of all Manitobans,” Pallister said.
“The decision to suspend classroom learning in schools indefinitely for this school year is the easiest decision to make because it protects our children and their education – it is the right thing to do.”
Goertzen noted no student will be held back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but students must actively engage in learning.
Anticipating the province might make such a move, Mountain View School Division (MVSD) is ready with a plan to ensure families have the supports they need to facilitate learning at home.
“One of the first orders of business when we do return to essentially regular operations, if you will, on Monday, is to take a greater inventory of how many of our students and families have access to the Internet in terms of connectivity and what kind of mediums and platforms we can use to reach them,” MVSD CEO/superintendent Dan Ward said, adding there are already a number of classes being offered by distance on platforms such as Office 365 and those offerings will be scaled up.
“And if we can’t, there is still plans to continue to create paper packages and we are working on the logistical details of how we get those packages to students on a regular basis.”
Among the details still being finalized are methods for providing feedback and assessment of students. Ward indicated the division will do everything it can to ensure all students receive the attention they need.
“Again we’re going to be flexible and nimble. So where we can, we will reach kids online. If we can reach them through a landline, if we can reach them through email, we’ll find ways to try to keep connected with kids and with families,” he said.
Expectations for the frequency and length of that contact are being worked out provincially, Ward said, utilizing information from other jurisdictions which range in the neighbourhood of five to 10 hours per week for younger students and three to four hours per week, per course for high school students.
“What I think students and parents need to know is there’s not going to be an expectation that children are sitting in front of screens or working at the kitchen table for six hours a day. That’s just not reasonable and practical,” Ward said, adding there will be contact time with teachers, hopefully on a daily basis or every couple of days for more of an extended period at which time work will be assigned
“This is unchartered waters and there’s lots going on in the home. And so the expectations are going to be reasonable and we’re working very hard to make sure that the supports are in place.”
Ward added the focus during this time away from the classroom is going to be on literacy and numeracy.
“Where the planning is going to start is on English language arts and mathematics. That’s not to say that we’re going to forget about sciences and social studies and data ecology and physical education,” Ward said.
“But that’s going to be our starting point in terms of, especially for K to eight, the emphasis is going to be on literacy and numeracy, those foundational skills. No doubt there is going to be some catchup when we return, but focusing on those foundational skills, I think, is vital to make that transition back into regular classes and regular learning all that smoother.”
Ward added work is underway to determine how to proceed with vocational programming and other elective courses outside the core curriculum and how to continue with assessments, particularly at the high school level.
“Because that’s where most of the questions, I think at least right off the bat, will come from,” Ward said, adding there are provincial committees, on which MVSD is well represented, exploring the options.
Students on track to graduate this year will do so. However, those on the outside looking in will have an opportunity to improve their marks. Current marks will serve as a baseline, Ward said, adding Grade 12 provincial exams have been cancelled.
“They’re not stuck with where they are now. The marks aren’t locked, they can improve upon those marks,” he said.
If, for some reason the division loses contact with a student during this time, and they have not been keeping up with their school work, provisions are being made to help them when regular classroom instruction resumes.
“There’s going to be a credit recovery program in place meaning that they’re not necessarily going to have to redo the entire course from scratch. We will see where they’re at and then and then build on that,” Ward said.
“No student in terms of a mark or grade should really fall significantly behind because of COVID-19.”
Ward said the system is in its early days and there will be more decisions and adjustments to be made. The situation is made much easier by the dedicated division employees who are doing all they can to ensure students and their families have proper supports, such as the many teachers sitting on provincial committees nailing down details.
“That’s emblematic of the entire division and our staff, that they just want to do anything they can to pitch in and help out,” he said, adding students and their families have also been supportive of the division’s efforts on their behalf.
“The public’s response has been really. really encouraging, a great deal of understanding that this is really outside of the norms of what we used to do. And I think there’s a general understanding that if we all pull together, we’ll get through it and we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ward added anyone having questions about the process can contact their teacher, principal or the division office. Supports for those experiencing anxiety around the pandemic are also being put in place. The division helpline will not be a professional counselling service, he added.
“But it’s going to be a phone or an email option that all students can avail themselves of. If they have anxieties about school or anxieties or questions around COVID-19, we can either direct them to the right information or we can provide help ourselves through our clinician team of social workers and psychologists and school personnel,” Ward said.
Additionally, Ward said MVSD will be offering professional development opportunities for staff to make them more comfortable with the situation.
“Because for a lot of teachers, teaching by distance is not something they’re accustomed to,” he said.
With the system in its early days, Ward said adjustments will be continuously made to improve the experience for everyone involved.
“We recognize this puts not only an enormous strain on our teachers, but on our families, as well. We’re asking a lot of our communities and our families, but I think we all recognize that this is a community effort to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“And I think that’s why there’s a great deal of understanding, across the board, that this is a necessity.”